Inside Fall Out Boy Guitarist Joe Trohman's Studio

Rock and roll recording is about community, ultimately.
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Rock and roll recording is about community, ultimately. Ensembles playing, writing and/or arranging together tend to thrive around the recording console. I won’t compare it to a campfire, though the really old, great ones tend to run a bit warm. Nowadays though, the API Model 1608, a modern-day (cooler running) small studio analog mixer, is the analog hub many recording musicians are choosing. It’s what Joe Trohman, guitarist and founding member of Fall Out Boy, recently installed in his own studio, the Rat Cave, in Los Angeles.

“Aesthetically, I always loved the A room at Electric Lady,” says Trohman, as he begins discussing his favorite environments that might have influenced his own studio, as it has now produced both subjective and sales-based accolades of measure. “Butch Walker’s old space was also on my mind when putting my spot together—tons of warmth. I don’t like how some studios have this bright, ’80s clinical vibe. I wanted to avoid that.”

He continues, describing the comfortable vibe of the Rat Cave. “I think what people seem to like about working in my space is that it’s cozy, simple but powerful. It’s incredibly relaxed and not a head-trip to work your way around. No frills, but you can do a great deal with what’s there…the space is half stuck in the past and half running towards the future. That’s kind of what we’re all doing anyway, and I like to own that fact.”

Fall Out Boy’s Trohman with his API Model 1608 analog mixer, surrounded by lots of analog processing flavor. The band’s latest was largely recorded at Trohman’s place, affectionately called the Rat Cave. This all started upon Trohman’s arrival in LA, when he felt a need for a home production space—something along the lines of album-quality capabilities. “I’ve always wanted a proper studio to work out of at home but never had the space until I moved to LA,” Trohman said. “I used to work out of a second bedroom that barely did the trick. It was really hard to work with bands or artists on projects out of that dinky space. And I was incredibly limited on what I could really accomplish for myself and others.”

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“When I moved to LA and started building my studio in the house, I immediately put my thoughts towards spaces I’ve worked out of over the years for everything from the aesthetic to the gear to the treatment.”

Trohman name-checks as inspirations his former stomping grounds, like Smart, Sunset Sound, Electric Lady, Ocean, The Pass, Gravity, Metrosonic and Ruby Red studios. “Smart, being the first proper studio I ever worked out of, was a big influence in general, just because it was my entrance into the recording world.”

On acoustics, Trohman worked with Chicago’s Manny Sanchez, owner of IV Lab Studios. “We work on a lot of projects together. He has the experience of building and running a commercial space, so naturally, I wanted his input.”

Gear-wise, the API is the Rat Cave’s centerpiece for an array of world-class outboard. “Outside of the 1608, my outboard is all pretty standard stuff—LA2A, eight BAE 1084s, pair of Distressors and a Retro 176. It’s all basic workhorse tools I’ve seen and used in virtually every studio I’ve been to, barring the 176, which I was introduced to through Jake Sinclair, who worked on the last couple of Fall Out Boy records. The ATCs are a no-brainer—very flat and true at every level. The Dynaudios—I tried them while making The Damned Things’ full length at Metrosonic in Brooklyn; I loved the low-end response. I have a pretty decent mic collection, but it’s mainly your standard fare. One of my favorites are a pair of Josephson e22S mics, which are usually hitting the toms and guitar cabs.”

Fall Out Boy’s latest 11-song release, American Beauty/American Psycho, was largely recorded at the Rat Cave. “A lot of the tracking, programming and overtdubs were done at my space. I would definitely like to do that again the next go around, maybe even do more of it there. It’s really fun and relaxing to work there and the results were fantastic.”

The album went smoothly with producer Jake Sinclair. “The differences and similarities were mostly due to working with Jake Sinclair again, but this time as the main producer rather than the engineer. He brought this laidback, take-your-time mentality to the sessions that actually helped us to fly through things so quickly, it was kind of ridiculous. It helped that we all knew what we were doing, too.”

With an analog studio at its core, the Rat Cave does encourage out-of-the-box creative processes. “I think a lot has to do with the fact that when [Fall Out Boy] started, we recorded things in an analog manner,” Trohman recalls. “And I do have an analog heart, even though I work in a digital world. We like warmth, harmonic distortion, things drenched in reverb, delay, etcetera—all the things that feel and sound analog.

“Our songs are built in different ways all of the time. Sometimes it starts 100-percent digitally in-the-box and moves to an analog setting and vice versa. Half of that depends on where we are in the world—at home versus the road. The other half depends on what we are feeling as far as inspiration goes. We use a hefty amount of both digital/analog aspects on our records.”

The sound, its familiar 500 Series EQ, reliability experiences and its surface ultimately sold Trohman on the Model 1608. “It’s an easy console to use and everything I track through it sounds great,” he concludes. “I went to Vintage King with Manny Sanchez and we put our hands on a few consoles, but the API was sort of in the back of my mind. The fully loaded configuration was in response to my tendency to buy things with the least amount of options. I always regret it later on and spend more in the long run. I wanted to do it right from the get go.”

This article first appeared in the December, 2015 issue of Pro Sound News as Studio Showcase: Quick—To The Rat Cave